I like this meme because I like lists. I like this meme because it reminds me of the Top 5 lists from High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby as a book, starring John Cusak as a movie). And I like this meme because it causes me to think long and hard about book-related topics. So here goes:
My parents are heading back to Brazil for the holidays, and I’ve chosen some vacation reading for them.
For my mother: a literary mystery:
1. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia deLuce Mystery #1
by Alan Bradley
Particularly because my mother loves science, history, and nothing too gruesome, this is the perfect blend of chemistry, post-WWII-history, and quizzical who-dunnit to keep her enthralled on the long flight. And, if she likes it, there are several more in the series to give her. My review:
No one imagines that a bedraggled migrant worker who turns up in town–least of all Gabriela herself–will be the agent of change. Nacib Saad has just lost the cook at his popular café and in desperation hires Gabriela. To his surprise she turns out to be a great beauty as well as a wonderful cook and an enchanting boon to his business. But what would people say if Nacib were to marry her?
Lusty, satirical and full of intrigue, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is a vastly entertaining panorama of small town Brazilian life.
Sometimes you see the perfect book for someone you will probably never give a gift to:
For an ex, with whom I shared a fondness for baseball:
3. Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure
by Craig Robinson, introduction by Rob Neyer
How many miles does a baseball team travel in one season?
How tall would A-Rod’s annual salary be in pennies?
What does Nolan Ryan have to do with the Supremes and Mariah Carey?
You might never have asked yourself any of these questions, but Craig Robinson’s Flip Flop Fly Ball will make you glad to know the answers.
Baseball, almost from the first moment Robinson saw it, was more than a sport. It was history, a nearly infinite ocean of information that begged to be organized. He realized that understanding the game, which he fell in love with as an adult, would never be possible just through watching games and reading articles. He turned his obsession into a dizzyingly entertaining collection of graphics that turned into an Internet sensation.
Out of Robinson’s Web site, http://www.flipflopflyball.com, grew this book, full of all-new, never-before-seen graphics. Flip Flop Fly Ball dives into the game’s history, its rivalries and absurdities, its cities and ballparks, and brings them to life through 120 full-color graphics. Statistics-the sport’s lingua franca-have never been more fun.
(By the way, the answers: about 26,000 miles, at least if the team in question is the 2008 Kansas City Royals; 3,178 miles; they were the artists atop the Billboard Hot 100 when Ryan first and last appeared in MLB games.)
For the boyfriend of a friend of mine who builds his own bikes:
4. Italian Racing Bicycles: The People, the Products, the Passion
by Guido P. Rubino
There are bicycles. And then there are Italian bicycles. As with high fashion or sports cars, when the world speaks of racing bicycles the conversation soon turns to Italy. Seasoned cyclists know that an Italian bicycle is more intimately yours, a more personal possession, than a bicycle of other origin. Italian bicycles are built to race with passion, and to win.
Italian Racing Bicycles traces the rich history of 40 landmark brands intimately connected with racing. Not surprisingly, the brands have deep roots, some tracing their lineage back more than 100 years to the early days of the velocipede. They also share a hunger for advanced technology, pushing engineering to new heights with exotic metal alloys, elaborate weaves of expensive carbon fiber, and aerodynamic studies that help their bikes and riders cheat the wind for greater speed.
Beyond these commonalities, though, the stories diverge. The restless inquisitiveness of Ernesto Colnago could not be more different from the methodical calm of Ugo De Rosa, for example, and yet these two iconic frame builders contributed immeasurably to the racing victories of the great Eddy Merckx. The passion for experimentation of Pinarello, the brazen creativity of Cinelli, the barrier-bursting hour machine of Moser—in search of racing victories, the volcanic inspiration of Italian artisans has repeatedly reshaped the dynamics of cycling.
Melding painstaking historical research with personal visits to each artist’s workshop, author Guido P. Rubino has unearthed the stories, the methods, the dreams, and the personalities of these cycling firms, large and small, that have contributed so fundamentally to the glory of the sport.
Moving on to books I would love to give but don’t have specific recipients yet:
5. The Story of Beautiful Girl
by Rachel Simon
Just finished reading this one, hope to have my review up soon, but it’s a beautiful love story that spans 40 years and four lives and despite the ups-and-downs, manages to have a happy ending:
It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: “Hide her.” And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia – lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.
6. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
by Anne Fadiman
This is my favorite book to give a kindred spirit reader in my life. Unfortunately, I’ve given it to everyone like that in my life already. Maybe in 2012 I’ll meet someone new to share it with?
Anne Fadiman is–by her own admission–the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate’s 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.
This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father’s 22-volume set of Trollope (“My Ancestral Castles”) and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections (“Marrying Libraries”), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony–Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.
Switching it up, the last books on my list are the favorite books I’ve received as gifts:
7. A Girl of the Limberlost
by Gene Stratton Porter
It was 1997. I had just won the Junior Bookworm Award at Girl’s Inc. in Southern Indiana, and the woman who ran the program, Elaine, was a bit like a second mother to me. She hand-chose A Girl of the Limberlost for me, starting me on a life-long love affair with Gene Stratton Porter’s books.
Set amid Indiana’s vast Limberlost Swamp, this treasured children’s classic mixes astute observations on nature with the struggles of growing up in the early 20th century. Harassed by her mother and scorned by her peers, Elnora Comstock finds solace in natural beauty — along with friendship, independence, and romance.
8. Letters from an Age of Reason
by Nora Hague
Thank you, thank you to my BFF for handing me this book. Several hundred pages, two continents, and a sweeping love story immersed in Civil War-era history later, 3/4ths of this book was impossible to put down. I immediately bought my sister a copy to pass on the favor.
Complex and sophisticated, sensuous and sexy, Nora Hague’s eloquent debut novel, Letters from an Age of Reason, is set amid two historical hotbeds of racial tension, moral hypocrisy, and shifting sexual convention. The years in question are the tumultuous ’60s – the 186os. And the landscapes are those of the Civil War-era United States and Victorian England.
Miss Arabella Leeds, the teenage daughter of a prominent New York family, and Aubrey Paxton, the pampered “high-yellow” house servant of wealthy New Orleans slaveholders, are destined to meet and fall in love. But before their paths can cross, and their romance commences in London, each must forsake complacency and comfort, the familial and familiar, for a journey toward self-discovery and the allure of the forbidden. Arabella must abandon the gentlewoman’s prescribed path and redefine her convictions – particularly those regarding her own sexuality – while Aubrey must acknowledge within himself a growing awareness of race and gender politics, and his place in a culture determined to ostracize him.
The pair make their unknowing way toward each other, encountering en route high adventure, erotic awakening, long-buried family secrets, and the racy underpinnings of corseted nineteenth-century society. Coincidence and correspondence steer them into the company of morphine addicts and occult practitioners, proto-feminists and sexual outcasts, glib aristocracy and dire poverty. But for Aubrey and Arabella, the greatest challenge will lie in their passion for each other, which places them forever outside the mores and conventions of their time.
A romantic adventure rich with vivacity, humor, and historical detail, Letters from an Age of Reason is a beautifully tapestried tour-de-force whose exceptional depth, passion, and power are sure to resonate long after the final page is turned.
9. The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother’s loneliness.Leo Gursky is just about surviving, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But life wasn’t always like this: sixty years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And though Leo doesn’t know it, that book survived, inspiring fabulous circumstances, even love. Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that very book. And although she has her hands full keeping track of her brother, Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah), and taking copious notes on How to Survive in the Wild she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With consummate, spellbinding skill, Nicole Krauss gradually draws together their stories.This extraordinary book was inspired by the author’s four grandparents and by a pantheon of authors whose work is haunted by loss Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and more. It is truly a history of love: a tale brimming with laughter, irony, passion, and soaring imaginative power.
10. The Time Traveler’s Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger’s cinematic storytelling that makes the novel’s unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant. An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler’s Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.